One of the only car-competent gearhead dudes in a computerized future is crippled in a suspicious attack after a self-driving car takes him into a bad neighborhood, right after meeting a reclusive tech giant named Eron (ha) who owns the self-driving car company. The gearhead’s wife is killed, and detective Betty Gabriel (Get Out) tries to figure out who could be responsible, but we know it’s Eron because so far he is the only other person in the movie. It becomes sort of a Black Mirror Robocop John Wick, as our now-crippled dude gets an Eron-designed brainstem chip that allows him to control his body again, then gives him enhanced abilities, then completely takes over. Whannell worked on all the Saw and Insidious movies, and Logan Marshall-Green, good at taking brutal actions that his voice and face say he’s not controlling, previously fathered an alien in Prometheus.

A great improvement on that Black Mirror with the inflatable husband-substitute… three acts of interactions with holograms programmed to behave like lost loved ones. First, Lois Smith (Minority Report, and not Almereyda’s Twister but the other one) is given a virtual version of her late husband, as his handsome younger self (Black Mirror star Jon Hamm), by their daughter Geena Davis and husband Tim Robbins. Here the word “prime” refers to the A.I. replica, not the original, as in World of Tomorrow. Already things are unsteady, since Hamm Prime is learning how to be a more accurate version of himself, and ditto Smith since her memory is becoming unreliable.

In the second part, Smith has passed away, and her prime provides little comfort for her daughter, who has committed suicide by part three, and whose prime provides little comfort for Tim Robbins. Great final scene where the three primes chat with each other, being open about topics which were forbidden to the living. Some of my favorite actors together in a room with a good script, something you’d assume would be done all the time, but which seems hard to pull off in practice. You can tell it’s based on a play, but it’s not overly stagey, with low-light and backlight effects and great unsettling string music by Mica Levi (Under the Skin).

I’m not convinced there needed to be a Blade Runner sequel, but if commercial concerns demanded one, this was probably as good as it was gonna get. You’ve got action, Harrison Ford, lots of references to the first movie but also new explorations of memory and authenticity, artificial intelligence and humanity.

New replicant-cop-who-is-himself-a-replicant Ryan Gosling, working for Robin Wright (also cool in Wonder Woman this year), kills Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) and finds Rachael’s bones. New boss of the new replicant organization is Jared Leto, who sends his enforcer Luv (Dutch Sylvia Hoeks) to steal information from the weak government. Mackenzie Davis (San Junipero) is a prostitute who follows Gosling and tries to seduce him, but unsuccessfully since his true love is a Her-like hologram named Joi (Ana de Armas of Knock Knock). Gosling dives deep within the conspiracy, finds Harrison Ford and leads him to his lost daughter, false-memory-creator Carla Juri. Also appearing: Barkhad Abdi, the security guard in Good Time. Everyone in this is great, except Leto, who acts like a magician. The music sucked, was all bwaaaamp sounds, and Geostorm was playing next door, so when my seat rumbled I could barely tell if it was my own movie or if a geostorm was hitting.


Blade Runner 2048: Nowhere to Run (Luke Scott)

A series of Blade Runner sequel/prequel shorts, introduced by Villeneuve. In this one, Dave Bautista goes to the city to sell some bottled snakes and give a girl a book, utterly destroys a street gang and accidentally attracts police attention.


Blade Runner 2036: Nexus Dawn (Luke Scott)

Magician Jared Leto faces off against government agent Benedict Wong (Black Mirror: Hated in the Nation) in a dimly-lit, delapidated office, displays the suicidal obediance of his new replicants in order to get the laws changed. Luke “son of Ridley” Scott also made the Prometheus shorts, the Alien: Covenant shorts and an episode of The Hunger TV series, and I’m sensing a pattern.


Blade Runner 2022: Black Out (Shinichiro Watanabe)

Anime short from the director of Cowboy Bebop, the one I was looking forward to, and therefore the most disappointing. Prequel shorts that fill in story gaps between major stories are fully unnecessary, and this one’s got some style (and briefly Edward James Olmos) but not enough to redeem the bad dialogue. Kung-fu replicants whup the asses of a Star Wars-helmeted security team, conspiring to cause the blackout mentioned in the sequel film. Lead girl Luci Christian has voiced a million movies and shows, including the Fullmetal Alchemist series.

Cool impressionist war sequence:

“It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.”

I remembered noir detective Harrison Ford tracking rogue artificial humans Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah through a future city, but did not remember the replicants convincing childlike inventor/toymaker William Sanderson to bring them to their maker Terrell (Joe Turkel wearing stop-sign glasses). First time watching the “final cut” edition on blu-ray, and it was glorious.

A most unusual movie. Katy loved it and wants to see more like it, if such a thing exists. Opens in Oz, which is like a Miiverse Second Life, then quickly becomes the story of Kenji, a student and not-terribly-important freelance Oz coder, who gets talked into joining cute girl Natsuki at a family reunion to pretend to be her boyfriend.

Family reunion conflict:

Oz gets super-hacked, which has real-world consequences because, unlike Second Life or Miiverse, people and companies use it for actual business, and traffic signals and emergency services can be accessed through it. After the family’s beloved grandma dies, they pool their real and online skills to stop the Oz hacker, with some great digital swarm animation along the way.

One of the few movies I’ve watched recently without reading any critic reviews/comments first – just looked interesting when Alamo programmed it last month – and now all I can find is Adam Cook hating on it at Letterboxd. Good thing I didn’t read that sooner, since we’re now looking forward to more of Hosoda’s movies.

Finally got around to watching the rest of these episodes (though not the Jon Hamm Christmas special) in prep for the upcoming American launch.

Be Right Back

After her cellphone-addict boyfriend Ash dies in a car crash, pregnant Hayley Atwell (Agent Peggy Carter in the Marvel movies/shows) signs up for a service that analyzes his voice recordings and social media posts and creates a Siri-like program she can speak with. Then she beta tests the next version, where a folded-up pseudo-flesh Ash (Domhnall Gleeson of About Time, who plays the human in the similar Ex Machina) is shipped to her house. But it turns out the way you behave at home with your spouse can’t be easily predicted by your social media posts, and even though Ash is able to learn, Hayley finds him creepy and finally banishes him to the attic. Director Owen Harris also made Holy Flying Circus.


White Bear

My favorite of the bunch, either because it’s the most horrific or because it costars Michael Smiley as a dystopian game show host. Victoria (TV’s Lenora Crichlow) wakes up confused and amnesiac, is told that most of the world has been consumed by a mysterious screen transmission, and those who haven’t are insanely murdering random citizens – so The Signal meets The Purge. Vic and a couple refugees come across Smiley in the woods, who first appears to be on their side, then is revealed to be one of the killers. After her thrilling escape, all this is revealed to be a complicated piece of theater. Nobody is dead, except the child Vic kidnapped and murdered, for which her punishment is to live in this nightmare, being constantly pursued and terrified, humiliated in front of a live audience, then her mind zapped with the MIB forgetfulness-ray for the next show. Director Carl Tibbetts has worked on Hemlock Grove, did a little-known plague thriller called Retreat with a promising-looking cast.


The Waldo Moment

Comedian Jamie (Daniel Rigby of the show Jericho) who talks through a cartoon bear called Waldo finds his attack on politicians going viral. Jamie’s more of an insult comic than a politician, but his producers smell a hit and strong-arm him into continuing, even entering Waldo into the campaign, at the expense of his sanity and his relationship with a woman in the race. This isn’t quite dark enough for Black Mirror, so at the end a guy from an unnamed U.S. agency meets them wanting to use Waldo to destabilize global elections. Based on a Nathan Barley sketch, I think. Director Bryn Higgins has a series of historical hospital dramas.

Unstable puppetmaster:

Dignified debate:

Domhnall Gleeson (time travel kid in About Time) is invited to social-media mogul Llewyn Davis’s mountain tech-mansion to evaluate android Ava (Alicia Vikander of The Danish Girl and Testament of Youth). But who is evaluating whom? Who’s really calling the shots here? And who… ah nevermind, after much slow-paced intrigue, she kills Llewyn, locks Domhnall in the house and escapes.

I had such hope from the opening scene, most efficient setup/backstory ever, then pacing goes to hell in the saggy middle, consisting mostly of halting, whispered conversations in unadorned rooms. Nice throwaway bit on global surveillance, as Llewyn casually spies on the entire human race to get data for his AI. Suffers in comparison to Her, but Vikander and her Ava-body effects make the movie worth watching.

Also when Llewyn dances with his robo-assistant:

Dissolve:

[Gleeson] makes a perfect fit for what seems to be Garland’s favorite role: the Nice Guy whose self-effacing charisma hides a deeply selfish, narcissistic core. But [Llewyn] is Ex Machina’s most important player, tasked with most reliably drawing and repelling Caleb and the audience, and giving the story its spine. He’s the one responsible for selling the film’s queasiest undercurrent: a feeling that if this is what humanity looks like, we’re definitely better off with artificial, alien, inhuman intelligences in charge.

Much more interesting visually than it looked from trailers and posters, which were all Joaquin looking into the distance while talking to Siri, sometimes smiling. More interesting emotionally too. Phoenix’s beloved operating system grows and learns at an accelerated rate, like if Short Circuit’s Johnny Five had internet access, finally admits to having simultaneous romantic relationships with hundreds of humans, and soon afterward leaves all the lonely humans alone with each other to further explore her own consciousness. It’s kinda beautiful and terrifying in a Terminator Skynet sense.

The somewhat-happy ending leaves Phoenix with Amy Adams, a longtime friend who bonded with her own OS while divorcing her husband. Also featured: Rooney Mara (Zuckerberg’s ex in Social Network) as the wife divorcing Phoenix, Olivia Wilde as a blind date whom Phoenix is too damaged to pursue, Portia Doubleday as a Siri sex surrogate, Chris Pratt as a coworker, and the very human voice of Scarlett Johansson. Won a million awards, including a screenplay oscar.

The Trap and The Power of Nightmares felt like they presented central points (clearly expressed in the open of each episode), then assembled evidence in an orderly fashion, supporting their points in a complex, sometimes roundabout way. This one presents a number of points with related themes. Each episode opens with different titles and explores different events which don’t directly relate back to each other. During episode 2 I was wondering when the Ayn Rand story would come back, but during #3 I realized it had been there all along, that this time Curtis is drawing the connections without explicitly calling back to previous subjects all the time. The movies are starting to link together in interesting ways. At this point, you could fill an “art and world politics” course just by running all his movies and assigning his blog as the textbook.

Episode 1 “begins with a strange woman in the 1950’s in New York,” connects Ayn Rand with Alan Greenspan and Silicon Valley, tracing the failures of her personal life and lack of acceptance in her philosphies, comparing to their massive influence decades later among people in power over the global economy. Rand rejected altruism and supported rational egoism, so surprisingly there’s no relation to the RAND Corporation discussed in The Trap, which worked on game theory, positing human behavior as perfectly selfish.

Part 2 is about natural ecosystems, and the myth that they remain perfectly in balance – Curtis says more recent, complex models show them to be in constant flux. Loved the ecology discussions, the scientific project that attempted to precisely measure every detail of a particular field. This is shown alongside early communes (humans trying to live in perfect balance without power structures) and recent national revolts (glorious-looking uprisings by “the people” against authoritarian power, only to see it replaced by new authoritarian power a year later).

Part 3 discusses the social tendency to view people as individually unimportant parts of a large, self-balancing system. We get stories of a game-theory biologist and his colleagues who theorised that all behavior of living creatures is a result of the needs of their genes – more depowering thoughts. We close in Africa where another animal behaviorist, Dian Fossey, was working, showing how false theories on human behavior and evolution combined with the desires of technology companies led to disaster for the people of Congo/Zaire and Rwanda.

So the movie’s often-mentioned “rise of the machines” isn’t literal so much as a social-control concept, caused by simplifying models of natural behavior. It seems perfect that I finished watching this the day before seeing The World’s End, which is about the rise of actual machines that aim to simplify human behavior.

I also read a bunch of articles from Adam Curtis’s amazing blog – sadly without the video segments since I was sitting at the airport sans wifi. Essay called “You think you are a consumer but maybe you have been consumed” about Texas oilman HL Hunt, caricatured in Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain. “The roots of so much of the distrust of the media today lie back with him and his ideas.” One called “Paradiabolical” on Somalia and Algeria, one on England’s history of bumbling spies, and one on animal shows before the rise of David Attenberg Attenborough.